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It was the early 1960s. The company I worked for designed and manufactured specialist components for aircraft. We were asked for initial designs for such components to meet the stringent requirements of a supersonic airliner – Concord – proposed as a joint project between British and French aircraft manufacturers.
We were in competition with a French manufacturer of similar components. Whoever won the design competition, both companies would manufacture the components. Winning the design competition offered prestige, but it was manufacturing that held the promise of long term profits. So neither company tried too hard to win the design competition.
In the event, our designs were the closest to the specification so it was we who were asked to work up the designs into plans for manufacture. And, decades later, we all know that no-one made any money from Concord.
I tell this story because it is an early example of international co-operation in manufacturing. Britain was not even a member of the EU back then, although much effort was being put into applying, only to be vetoed by the then French president, Charles DeGaule.
These days most complex machines – not just aircraft, but motor vehicles and domestic appliances – are manufactured by international consortia using components sourced from around the world. Within the EU, these consortia take full advantage of the Single Market and Customs Union to import components tariff free from one part of the Union to another and sell the resulting machine in most member states.
In the automotive industry, for example, final assembly of one model might take place in the UK, and of another in France or Belgium, with components for both sourced from several countries. No wonder these companies are worried about the possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Their supply chains will be disrupted, their UK businesses rendered unviable. This applies to UK based component manufacturers supplying end users elsewhere in the EU just as much as to UK based manufacturers sourcing components from other parts of the EU.
It also applies to UK based food processors importing ingredients from within the EU, and UK farmers and horticulturalists supplying ingredients to EU processors. Such contracts generally take years to negotiate. This explains why the UK can’t “just walk away” as some of those who voted “leave” two years ago would wish. The reality is that, unless David Davis and his team can come up with something as close as possible to the existing Single Market and Customs Union, the future looks very bleak indeed for British businesses of all sizes.
Patrick Minford, one of the few economists who favour Brexit, admits this but is unconcerned, stating that the UK can do without manufacturing. The leadership of the Labour Party should be very worried about the livelihoods of their members and supporters. It is beyond belief that they are not fulfilling the proper role of an opposition and fighting tooth and nail to prevent #Brexit.
I am getting more than a little tired of people who want to remain in the EU but say “The people have voted and we must accept that.” Why do such people lack the courage to stand up for what they believe in? Why are they content to stand by and watch the country being destroyed, however reluctantly they do so?
I have explained previously how the vote on 23rd June 2016 did not represent the will of (all of ) the people. But there is something even more significant about the #Brexit referendum and it is most easily explained by comparison with the recent referendum here in Ireland.
Apart from the size of the majority, much more clear cut at almost 2/3rds in favour, the Irish referendum did not impose anything upon the losers. On the contrary, it removed an imposition.
The repeal of the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution does not mean that anybody will, in future, have to have an abortion. Those who object on moral or any other grounds to the ending of a pregnancy can still allow their own pregnancy to go to full term whatever the circumstances of conception or the existence of serious risk to the health of the mother or the foetus. But for those facing such a difficult choice there will now be the opportunity to end the pregnancy under certain fairly narrow circumstances yet to be defined by the Irish Parliament.
#Brexit, on the other hand is being imposed on the rest of the population of Britain by the minority who positively supported it two years ago.
What does that mean? Never mind the claim that “Brexit means Brexit”, the reality is that, for businesses that trade with the European Union and for people who like to travel between Britain and the European Union, those activities will, in future, be less easy than they presently are.
Despite all the talk about “frictionless borders”, one thing that everyone who voted to leave the EU has stated repeatedly is that they believe the current arrangements for controlling the borders between Britain and the EU are inadequate and that tougher controls need to be put in place.
That must, inevitably, mean more customs officials, more passport checks, more queues at the ports. It’s not just about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, or between Gibraltar and Spain, for that matter. It’s about every point of entry into and exit from the UK.
It means more lorry parks at Dover and places like Lowestoft, Immingham and Hull. It means more frequent bag and passport checks for people arriving home to the UK from European holidays or business trips.
And if you wonder why the cabinet is so divided, it is because of the impossibility of squaring the circle between securing greater control of Britain’s borders on the one hand, and maintaining frictionless trade and travel between the UK and the EU on the other. And all this because for 40 years people have been fed myths and half-truths about the EU’s influence in the lives of ordinary Britons.
Make no mistake, it’s those ordinary Britons who will be worse off in so many ways because of Brexit. The rich, tax avoiding, corporations and oligarchs will be the only beneficiaries. Shame on those politicians who purport to defend “the many not the few” for their abject failure to do just that.
To make that clear, 29,089,259 people did not vote to leave the EU. How is that the “will of the people”?
What about those who were excluded from the electorate but will be eligible to vote by the time the full implications are understood and the details of whatever deal is reached at the end of the negotiations between the UK government and the other 27 nations of the EU?
I am well aware that, in the UK, we almost always have governments that do not have the express support of a majority of the electorate or even of those eligible to participate in a general election. I have always deplored that fact and spent a good deal of time and energy over the years campaigning for proportional representation. So it is perfectly consistent for me to deny the oft repeated claim that 1.3 million is a clear enough majority and that I should “get over it” and accept the result.
There is, however, a great deal of difference between the question “which of these individuals would you like to represent you in Parliament for the next five years” and “do you agree that we should overthrow 43 years of co-operation with our neighbours and return to making our own way in the world?” Not that the question was framed with quite such clarity, but that is the import of the decision. It seals our fate, not for the next five years, but for a generation. And most of the generation that will be affected had no say.
On Thursday’s “Question Time” Nigel Farage insisted that the government’s own economic forecasts are wrong, that countries like China, India and Brazil are queuing up to do deals with the UK. Ignoring the first claim, which simply highlights the man’s contempt for the civil service, let’s examine the second, which has also been asserted by Liam Fox in the past.
The truth is, as the prime minister was keen to point out, on her recent trip to China, we already have trade agreements in place with most of these nations, under the auspices of the EU. Of course they want to trade with such a large bloc with it’s population of close on half a billion. When we leave the EU, not only will we have a less advantageous trading arrangement with that bloc, but those existing trade agreements with other nations will lapse and have to be re-negotiated.
If they are indeed “queuing up” to do deals with the UK it is because they can see we will be an easy touch, desperate to sign up to anything, any relaxation of consumer protection regulations, in order to get a deal, any deal. And this is not because they are desperate to purchase goods and services produced by British workers, but because they want to offload their own surpluses on unsuspecting British consumers.
How will imports of Brazilian beef help British agriculture, which by then may well be reeling at the loss of support from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy?
An often repeated response from Bexiters, when it is pointed out that almost half our trade is presently with the EU, is that we import more from the other 27 than we export to them; there is a deficit.
But we are not obliged to import so many German cars, Spanish vegetables and French wines – or, come to that, so much dairy produce from Ireland. That is the true will of the people, exercising their right of choice to purchase what they obviously see as offering good value for money.
If you are part of the 17 million minority that wants to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union should you not be boycotting those goods already? It might help you to gain a better understanding of what you are rejecting if you did.
Another Brexit supporting politician, Daniel Hannan MEP, recently told the BBC that leaving the EU would benefit the poorest Britons because they would have access to cheap food. People like Farage, Fox and Hannan want you, and the 29 million who did not vote to leave, to introduce hormone injected beef from cattle fed on antibiotics and chicken washed in chlorine into your diet. How is this of benefit to anyone except the importers? It will impoverish our farmers and threaten the health of ordinary people, placing even greater pressure on the NHS.
It is not too late. It’s time to wake up to what awaits us after March 2019. Exiting from Brexit might leave a few politicians looking foolish, but what’s not to like about that? It’s time to respect the will of the many, not the few.
Blather is an old Scots word ultimately derived from an earlier Scandinavian word for chatter or prattle. I could have used any one of many words to denote the nonsense that is still being uttered by British politicians who want the UK to leave the EU. I was tempted to use a crude reference to bovine excrement or an equally unsavoury noun usually associated with a certain part of the male anatomy that comes by the pair.
I caught a segment of the ‘Tonight‘ programme on Irish television earlier in the week in which Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was taking part. Asked what was his problem with the Single Market and the Customs Union, he asserted that they prevent the UK negotiating trade deals with non-EU countries, deals which he was sure would benefit Northern Ireland businesses. When it was pointed out that most of those countries, including those who are members of the Commonwealth, prefer to deal with the UK as part of the much larger EU market, he responded by saying he had recently returned from Egypt where he led a trade mission from Northern Ireland, securing lucrative contracts for Northern Ireland businesses.
I felt like shouting at the screen: “membership of the EU didn’t prevent you doing that, then!”
Also this week, Channel 4 News asked a random sample of English people to mark the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic on a map of the island. The results were astonishing, showing that most people have no idea that, for example, the most northern point of the island, Malin Head, is in the Republic. Britons frequently refer to Northerrn Ireland as “Ulster” – I used to do it myself but have carefully avoided doing so in this post. The fact is that the ancient Irish province of Ulster includes Donegal which is in the Republic, to the west of Northern Ireland.
But whilst this week’s controversy has been concentrated on the land border between the UK and the EU, and the implications for the Northern Ireland peace process of any reinstatement of a border between the two parts of the island of Ireland, no-one ought to lose sight of the UK’s east and south coasts with their many ports, from Aberdeen to Southampton, all of which handle traffic between the UK and continental Europe and all of which will need some degree of additional policing if the “best deal for Britain” that David Davis is so eager to achieve falls short of the existing arrangements. And then there are the 16 regional airports*, as well as Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead.
I am only an ordinary citizen, although I did once dabble in local politics and even stood as a candidate for the European parliament, but I cannot comprehend how anyone could imagine that any “deal” could be better than the one we already have. I make no apology for repeating again what I said before the referendum, here, and, afterwards, here, and have continued to say in the period since.
As this comprehensive Facebook post from Jon Danzig at Reasons2Remain makes clear, the months of uncertainty, negotiations, and costly preparations that the UK has been forced to endure, and will continue to endure through the proposed two year “transition period”, are utterly pointless if the deal that is struck at the end of the process looks anything like the one we already have. And, if it doesn’t, then businesses that rely on fast freight transfers between the UK and EU will be hampered and their customers, the citizens of Britain, will pay the price.
*For anyone interested the 16 are, in alphabetical order, Birmingham; Blackpool; Bournemouth; Bristol; Cardiff; East Midlands; Exeter; Humberside; Leeds Bradford; Liverpool; Luton; Manchester; Newcastle; Norwich; and Teesside.
British blogger Clive tells it the way it is, prompted by a cartoon in, of all places, The Times. Like me, Clive is of an older generation (I think he is a few yearss younger than me) utterly perplexed, not only by the result of last year’s referendum, but by the general perception that it was people of our generation who swung it in favour of leave.
The only explanation I’m able to come up with for that is that we have had 40 years of being bombarded by fake news about the EU from the right wing media.
I can’t leave you to Clive’s thoughts without adding how horrified I was to see that Corbyn’s equally out of touch crowd voted earlier this week to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union.
Look at these two headlines. One is from the Irish Sun, the other from the UK edition of the same newspaper. They demonstrate how the paper’s owner panders to the prejudices of its readers in the two nations. (Both titles are owned by Murdoch’s News Corp.)
Behind the headlines is an unpleasant truth: no-one, on either side, wants to see a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. But it’s impossible for the British government to reconcile that fact with the demand, from some of those who voted to leave the EU, that the UK should control its own borders.
As I pointed out last week, the only possible way out of this mess is to admit that controlling this particular border is impossible. And, given the existence of the Channel Tunnel and the frequency of Ro-Ro ferry operations between the UK and continental Europe, controlling those borders is equally impractical and undesirable.
It follows that Britain must remain in the Customs Union.
The idea of dismantling the existing arrangements in order to put in place something that is, in practice, exactly the same, is an appalling waste of everyone’s time and patience, including that of the editors of The Sun on both sides of the Irish Sea.
Given that a key #Brexit topic of the moment is the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, I am resurrecting another old post.
On BBC Newsnight last night Kirsty Wark challenged Bertie Ahern to say that he and the present Taosiach, Leo Veradker, would welcome a hard border. Obviously he would not do so. No one in Ireland, or anywhere in the EU, wants a hard border. It is only the British government and the hard core of its EU hating citizens who seem incapable of understanding that you either have a hard border or no border.
The rationale of the decision to leave was that Britain wanted to control its borders. Logically that must include the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
But it goes deeper than that. If Britain exits the customs union it is not only the mainland border that will need to have custom controls installed. They will need to be installed at all the ports that serve routes between Britain and the EU. Dover is the busiest of these, but Southampton, Hull, Immingham, Felixstowe and, of course, Hollyhead are also important points of entry and exit. Wikipedia lists 70 major ports around the coast of England and Wales. And that is to ignore the many airports that serve air borne transport between Britain and the rest of Europe.
The BBC regularly points out the magnitude of the problems resulting from the referendum result, including that of policing all of these points of entry if Britain is to gain full control of her borders. The usual response from those who want #Brexit at any price is to call the BBC out for being too negative about the subject.
Others seem to believe that it will all come right in the end because the EU do not want to see the erection of trade barriers between the UK and the other 27 members. To which I ask the simple question: what is the point of spending two years negotiating the UK’s departure from the Single Market and the Customs Union in order to create a new relationship that replicates what has been negotiated away?
If it looks like a customs union and operates like a customs union then it bloody well IS a customs union and all that heartache, all those hours of bureaucrats’ time expended, the uncertainty disrupting British business, are a criminal waste when there are so many far more important problems the government and its employees ought to be tackling.